Order and Happiness Has Been Restored to the Basement

This picture makes me happy

I don’t know what happened to the basement (which is where I do most of my work during the winter months). Somewhere along the line, the basement became unmanageable. And then it spread. The garage became unmanageable, too.

[I attempted to write a paragraph explaining what I think happened to create such chaos in the basement, but then I realized that you probably don’t really care about that, do you, Reader?]

It’s impossible to do good work in the middle of such disarray, and I’ve been hoping to bring some order to it all so I can get back to working happily along, but I became paralyzed by disorganization. I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it all.

I’ve been publicly complaining that I can’t seem to tackle the basement. I thought that perhaps peer pressure might help motivate me. It didn’t. No one really cares about my basement. A couple of weeks ago, I bought some industrial shelving at an estate sale. I thought the shelves might be my answer, but they sat in a pile all disassembled and only made matters worse. I grew in a funk about it.

And then Deb got some free time and some energy, and she directed all her powers to restoring order. First, she cleared the garage and rearranged it. Then she took on the basement. It’s an ancient basement, and the ceiling is low, so she spent days stooped over and banging her head on rafters when she forgot and stood tall. While she did all of that, I took care of the leaves. I think she wanted me out of her way…which was fine with me because I am hopelessly ineffective in that basement right now. I raked every leaf in our yard and from our gardens and from every nook and cranny and mulched every last one of them while the basement transformed.

And now the basement looks better than ever. The floor is clear. There is order. I can breathe and work down there again.

No, it’s not complete. I have been given a list of basement-related tasks to accomplish this week, and from what I’ve seen of Deb’s determination these past few days, I had better check those things off my list lickity split or pay the piper.


Fire Up the Air Compressor

Friends, what is the one tool that makes building a million hive boxes and 8 million frames so much easier? This puppy. Which I bought on sale at Home Depot (once again, my good friend Patty Grady pulled through with good pricing and priceless customer service) and with which I am spending endless hours building and building and building in my basement.

Porter Cable air compressor, nail gun, and staple guns

Building Top-Bar Hives

Selecting and Operating Beekeeping Equipment

Yes, I know…I haven’t posted much about the bees lately. Why? Because Jody’s getting married soon, and today we’re hosting her first bridal shower. So I’ve been busy with that. Right now, as I type, I’m smoking 15 pounds of pork shoulder that is simply to die for. I can’t wait until we figure out a way to send aromas over the internet. Stop over at 1PM for a taste of it. You’ll also freak-out love my mother’s 3-week cole slaw, jalapeno cornbread, and Vidalia onion pie. This is not your typical bridal shower, Reader.

I built three top-bar hives yesterday, though. I swear, there was sawdust everywhere. Because I so often suggest new beekeepers try their hands at top-bar hives, and because I’ve been asked to build a few for some clients, I’m trying to determine a fair price for the hives. I think I should charge for TBHs the way bee suppliers charge for Langstroth hives (the hive in the above image is a Langstroth hive)…they charge by the piece: for the hive body, the individual top bar, the lid, the stand, etc. That makes sense, yes?

For some reason, it’s hard for me to remember to take pictures as I build. I’ll do that next time and include notes on how to construct your own TBH. I know I keep reminding myself that the bees don’t care that I’m not a precise carpenter. And if those top-bar hive novices are really into owning spectacular looking hives, then they’ll have to construct their own or find an experienced carpenter to do it for them. Mine are simple. Fortunately, the bees don’t mind; they gladly repair and improve on my inept skills.

Now, I’ve gotta go throw a handful of wet applewood chips on the fire.




You Have to LIFT All Those Pretty Boxes!

Langstroth hives

Once you’ve decided to keep bees, you’ll need to determine what kind of hive boxes they’ll live in.

Until recently, there weren’t many viable options in this department. Most people simply kept bees in those stackable white boxes—you know the ones. Those hives are called Langstroth hives…named after Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth who designed the moveable-frame hive (and who, by the way, lived and kept his bees about 50 miles from where I write this and where I earned my undergraduate degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio).

Langstroth hives are designed with honey production in mind. Big honey production. They are not designed for women or small people or people who are aging or people who have bad backs or for people who will ever age or ever have bad backs or who will ever lose strength and agility.

Langstroth hives require strength to maneuver. And maneuvering is required. If you aren’t a particularly strong or agile person, or if you have physical limitations such as shortness (I’m not tall), you may need to enlist the help of another person when you inspect your bees. Having said that, most of my hives are Langstroth hives. And when I began keeping bees, I didn’t know there were choices. Knowing what I know now…if I were keeping bees only in my own back yard, I would not keep my bees in Langs.

If honey production is your goal (in other words, if you plan to have enough honey to satisfy yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and still have honey to sell), or if you keep your hives in locations you can’t visit each week, then Langstroth hives are probably your best bet. If this is the case, then for many reasons I STRONGLY suggest you follow Michael Bush’s practice of running all medium depth, 8-frame equipment. That’s what I do (it’s not how I began, and shifting to this system took some work…but it was worth it). Read about the benefits of standardizing 8-frame, medium-depth equipment on Michael Bush’s website. I think he’s brilliant, creative, and practical…and I follow his advice.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of Langstroth hives. This is a primer. Read other sources to learn more.

My next post will address Top Bar Hives…which is the hive I currently recommend for those

  1. who wish to keep a hive or two in their yards,
  2. who have time to visit the hives once a week for 30 minutes or so,
  3. who are satisfied with honey for themselves and a few friends
  4. who have physical limitations
  5. who are older
  6. who may one day have back trouble
  7. who live in an urban space
  8. who wish to keep their hives low profile and understated
  9. who march to the beat of a different drummer

My Next Equipment Order

I’m gonna go ahead and list my next equipment order right here, Reader. That way, I can access it from anywhere…from my phone or from a computer. And, if you’re like I am, you enjoy seeing what other people order.

8-frame, medium hive boxes (20)

8-frame bottom boards (5)

8-frame migratory covers (5)

medium frames—grooved top and bottom (150)

PF120 foundation from Mann Lake (50)

5-frame medium nucs (2)

5-frame deep nuc (1)

5-frame nuc bottom board (3)

5-frame nuc migratory covers (3)

Bee Quick (1)

Queen catcher (2)

Large smoker (1)

Golden Bee jacket—size small (1)

Well, that should cost me an arm and a leg.

Thinking Outside of the Box(es)

Just when I’ve built up a lot of equipment, my beekeeping philosophy evolves. I guess if you simply “keep” bees, the equipment doesn’t matter so much. But if and when you get more involved, some off-beat equipment makes more and more sense. Figures.

Here’s what I’m thinking: I currently own and use two different sized boxes and frames. I use two 10-frame deep brood boxes per hive, and then, for honey collection, I add however many shallow boxes I need on top of the two deeps per hive.  I want to switch to 8-frame medium boxes and use those for both brood rearing and honey collection.

Why is that, you ask, Reader? Because the bees almost always leave the two end frames empty, so there’s no reason to use 10-frame boxes. And the 10-frame deep boxes are very very heavy when they’re full of honey and bees—they weigh about 100 pounds each. Try lifting four of those every week…you might be inclined to stop raising bees altogether. It’s also easier for the bees to heat and cool and defend a smaller-size box.

Interchangeability is another reason to switch over to medium-sized boxes. If all the boxes are interchangeable, then I can begin to move frames and boxes all over the place to increase colony success. As it is now, I’m limited by how and where I can move my bees and brood…right now, I have to keep shallow frames in shallow boxes and deep frames in deep boxes. If they were all medium depth, it would give the bees the room they need to raise brood, and I could still use them for honey collection…the medium-depth boxes are liftable.

If you don’t often manage or think about how to manage a hive of bees, what I just discussed won’t make much sense to you, so skim over it. Suffice it to say that medium boxes make more sense for the beekeeper, and they’re easier for the bees to manage and defend, too.

But I can’t quite figure out the logistics of how to shift over to the new sizes since all my hives are active and healthy right now (so I’m not gonna mess with them at all)…this is when my creativity often fails me. I have a hard time thinking outside of the box (get it?!) Nor am I sure of what to do with the old equipment. I guess I can hang onto some of it and devise another type of hive. Or I could sell my larger boxes and frames to someone who’s only beginning.

Reader, do you want some nicely painted boxes?